A Historic March in Boca Raton

Nothing like what happened Saturday has ever happened in Boca Raton.

The city has hosted political rallies, and the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure draws crowds to support breast cancer research. The March for Our Lives event, however, was very different—and very impressive.

According to a city spokeswoman, the march—one of 800 nationwide against gun violence—drew roughly 6,000 people. Mayor Susan Haynie agreed with the estimate, noting that marchers filled the Mizner Park Amphitheater—which has a capacity of 5,000—and another 1,000 couldn’t get in. Since The Palm Beach Post reported that 3,000 attended the march in West Palm Beach, that would make Boca Raton’s by far the largest in Palm Beach County.

City resident Barbara Finizio had the idea for a local march. She has two daughters in Manhattan and another at the University of Florida. After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, Finizio told me Monday, “I couldn’t sit quiet. I tell my girls that there are three kinds of people in the world: the ones who make things happen, the ones who watch, and the ones who wonder what happened. I had to stand with those kids.”

Finizio and Maria Sachs, a former state senator who lives in the West Boca community of Horseshoe Acres, formed a nonprofit to be the host organization. While at City Hall to get permits, they “just walked into the mayor’s office” and met with Haynie and City Manager Leif Ahnell.

“They were very receptive.”

The only problem they encountered was liability insurance. Boca Raton, like most cities, allows special events only if organizers indemnify the city. Finizio said they secured the coverage from Everytown for Gun Safety, the umbrella organization for March for Our Lives. Everytown’s founder is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Finizio praised the “great support” organizers got from the city. Ten staff members from the community events department handled logistics at the Community Center, where marchers gathered. Police provided an escort from there to Mizner Park. The only problem was a weak sound system. Many people couldn’t hear an animated Haynie say, “Today, we are marching to change the world!” and Sachs say, “Today, we are all mothers!”

Finizio, Sachs and Haynie led the march, joined by city council members Andrea O’Rourke, Scott Singer and Robert Weinroth. The crowd was notable for its size and its diversity: young, old, black, white, brown.

Signs were everywhere: “Bullets are not school supplies”; “The only thing easier to buy than a gun is a GOP candidate”; “Grades up, guns down”; “Put your $$$ where your thoughts and prayers are.” Marchers updated a Vietnam-era chant: “Hey, hey, NRA, how many kids did you kill today?”

At the amphitheater, marchers saw a live feed from the march at Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. Then came music and some inspiring and poignant speeches from students. One who attends Omni Middle spoke of the difficulty in finding mental health counseling.

For all the political strength of the National Rifle Association, poll after poll shows that majorities in both parties favor gun control measures that Congress won’t even discuss. As the march started, the call and response was, “Tell me what democracy looks like/This is what democracy looks like.” Where it goes from here is uncertain, but in Boca Raton and many other places Saturday, democracy was on the march.

Boca’s response to gun control

Since so many members of the Boca Raton City Council attended the march, what will their response be in terms of gun-control policy and school safety?

Mayor Haynie told me Monday that the city “will continue to work with the school district” on safety at the nine public school campuses in Boca Raton. In addition, City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser updated the council at Monday’s workshop meeting about Weston’s plan to sue the state over a law that penalizes cities and counties from enacting local regulations on firearms.

In 1987, the legislature made firearms regulations the purview of the state. Frieser said that law is not at issue. In 2011, however, the legislature and Gov. Rick Scott reinforced it by adding penalties of up to $5,000 and removal from office for local officials whom the state believes violate the ban. The law even forbids public officials from having their legal staffs defend them.

The Weston City Commission voted to challenge the constitutionality of what Frieser called that “super penalty provision.” The city is seeking other plaintiffs. Half a dozen have joined, and Frieser said a similar number have scheduled it for discussion.

Coral Gables city commissioners debated passing gun laws in spite of the ban. After the city attorney said she should not sign any such ordinance, the commission rejected the proposal last week, though just by a 3-2 vote.

Boca Raton won’t try that drastic step, but Frieser recommended that the council join Weston because she believes that the penalties amount to overreach. Pushing back against Tallahassee on firearms regulation will be “step by step,” but you “can’t even have the discussion” with the chilling penalties in place.

The council agreed. The issue thus will come back in the form of an ordinance for approval.

Weinroth mailer

Councilman Weinroth, who is running against Mayor Haynie for term-limited Steven Abrams’ county commission seat, sent out an assault weapon-themed mailer seeking signatures to get on the ballot by petition. That would keep Weinroth from using campaign funds to pay the filing fee.

Given the aforementioned law, there’s little that Weinroth or Haynie could do from the commission. Weinroth does say that he would “work with our county’s legislative delegation” on firearms regulation and school safety. He does not support arming school personnel, which is a provision in the bill the Legislature passed in response to the Parkland shooting.

Delray shooting

For all the deserved attention on Stoneman Douglas and school safety, students at Saturday’s marches correctly emphasized that the focus on reducing gun violence must extend beyond campuses. We got a reminder of that Sunday in Delray Beach.

A 44-year-old man fatally shot his wife, her sister and himself. He used a handgun to shoot both women many times. There is no information yet about how he obtained the gun. A spokeswoman said the police department had received no calls that involved violence from the home in the city’s northwest neighborhood.

Delray Match Point meeting

I wrote last week that Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein would try to schedule an executive session of the city commission to discuss the lawsuit against Match Point, which promotes the annual pro tennis tournament. That meeting happened Monday.

You can see why Glickstein wanted the meeting to happen quickly. The current commission strongly supported the lawsuit in 2016. The new commission takes over on Thursday. Newly elected Ryan Boylston and Adam Frankel each received a $1,000 contribution from the owner of Match Point, and both have stated that they would like to review the litigation.

The city approved the 25-year contract in 2005.

Council agenda

Having not met for a month, the Boca Raton City Council has a full agenda for tonight’s meeting. Though no items have major citywide interest, some are worth noting:

  • Mayor Haynie wants the council to formally challenge the South Florida Water Management District’s plan to clear the C-15 Canal that borders Boca Raton and Delray Beach. The stretch in question runs from Interstate 95 to North Dixie Highway.

The resolution contends that the district’s plan would violate state law, harm residents’ property, damage the canal banks and destroy migratory bird habitat. Haynie also alleges that the district ignored her request to meet with residents to hear their objections.

The district argues that the clearing would improve drainage, especially during hurricanes. Phase 1, which would run from Dixie Highway to Brant Drive, is scheduled to begin in May.

  • City Manager Ahnell wants the council to approve an extra $2 million in the budget. The money would pay for improvements and a staff position at Mizner Bark, the dog park, add $113,000 for the study of the proposed downtown government/civic campus and allocate $1 million for additional garbage trucks to remove hurricane debris.
  • Ahnell wants the council to amend for a second time the agreement with GL Homes to buy the western golf course for $65 million.

The first amendment extended the company’s inspection period from March 12 to April 11. This amendment would extend it to June 22. An issue has arisen over roughly four acres of the 200-acre site. Ahnell said the city and the company are “working cooperatively” but need more time to resolve the issue.

Rezoning Dixie in Boca?

A resident-driven proposal to rezone part of the Dixie Highway corridor in Boca Raton may be gaining steam.

Realtor Mike Weppner mentioned the idea to me more than a year ago. He hopes to rejuvenate the section between 20th Street and Spanish River Boulevard. Older duplexes dominate that tired section of the city across from the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. Weppner has talked with council members and city staffers about a rezoning that would allow two-story structures with apartments above businesses. Ideally, the businesses would be professions that serve neighbors.

Weppner has made clear that this proposal does not come from a developer. Nor would it allow buildings taller than 35 feet. He said Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke has expressed support. Weppner said he also drew interest from Development Services Director Brandon Schaad and Senior Planner Jim Bell.

At tonight’s city council meeting, Weppner will make his case during public comment. If council members like the idea—and one wonders why they wouldn’t—they could schedule it for a workshop. Planners then could study the proposal and decide, assuming they see a benefit to the city, if should proceed to an ordinance.

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